“There, now,” said Applejack. “You should be all set, Princess. Uhh… how long ya needin’ it for, again?”

“Oh! Do you know, I hadn’t even thought of that? I’m not certain, Applejack,” said Princess Celestia, levitating a small metal bit in the air with a glow from her horn.

“Don’t you worry,” soothed Applejack, “you take your sweet time with that lil’ toy. Heh, an’ I hope ya do have you a sweet time, Princess, in fact don’t you bring that back until you’ve had yourself some very special moments!” She considered, her ears quirked to the side, for a moment, and added, “Or unless things go all weird on ya, because I got to admit sometimes them things are tricky buggers to manage.”

Celestia wrinkled her nose, wryly, crinkling up her eyes in amusement. “So I’d noticed. But it is only fair that I take my turn at trying to manage it, after all the time I’ve spent in skepticism. I would ask, again, for discretion. If anypony were to… eek!”

Dash jumped up. “What? What is it, Princess?”

“Oh, I must have been imagining it, but I thought I saw somepony peering in the window. But there’s no-one there. It is my foalish nervousness, no doubt: piquant after so many boring centuries, yet annoying all the same. I don’t mean to burden you with it. I will be on my way.”

Dash looked at the window. It was the same one she’d burst through, once, after a fight with Applejack. She narrowed her eyes. Did she see a movement? Was that a gray feather? Or something purple?

“I’m sure it was my imagination,” said Princess Celestia placatingly.

Rainbow Dash grinned a fierce grin, and slunk over to the window, placing a hoof on the sash. “Or…”

“Or?” blinked Applejack.

“A SPY!” yelled Dash, flinging open the window and sticking her head out.

She was greeted by two little shrieks of terror, and a clattering of hooves from upstairs. “What in tarnation?” bawled Granny Smith from her bedroom. Dash ignored it and glared at the miscreants, who cowered piteously in the bushes.

Rarity and Derpy Hooves stared back, lips quivering, caught listening at the window.

“And what do you have to say for yourselves?” demanded Dash. “What are you even doing there anyway?”

“We’re sorry Rainbow Dash!” cried Derpy. “Rarity, we shouldn’t ought to have done it, I told you!”

“Shush,” said Rarity. “I accept the full blame. Rainbow, darling! I was sure I saw Princess Celestia—Celestia herself! handling one of the magic bits! And it was such an astonishing sight that we… I… Oh, hell! We wanted to see what would happen if she bit down on it, if you must know. Are you having a royal evening?”

Down the stairs clattered a tiny green form. “Princess! It’s Princess!” cried Northern Spy, excitedly.

“Aw, fer pony’s sake!” wailed Applejack. “It’s your bedtime, missy!” She grabbed Spy, who wriggled free and began hopping up and down, as Rarity and Derpy stared in the kitchen window and Princess Celestia, wide-eyed and red-faced, continued to levitate the penis-bestowing sex toy for lack of anything better to do.

Then, she found that better thing—and began to laugh, richly, deeply, with a freedom that defused the tensions in the room. “Oh, my little ponies! I can’t put anything over on you, can I? Please, Rarity, Derpy Hooves, help me observe discretion even if I cannot hide things from you. I believe you are quite familiar with these trinkets?”

“Where trinkets?” demanded Northern Spy.

“Not for you, kiddo!” decreed Applejack firmly.

“But what are you even doing here, Rarity?” asked Rainbow Dash. “Okay, so you saw what we were doing but how come you’re peeking in windows all the way out here?”

“I am not!” huffed Rarity. “Well, not much. Not in a bad way. As it happens, I need to speak to you, Rainbow Dash, and my curiosity about what I nearly witnessed is a distraction, nothing more. We are here on serious business and what we hoped to watch is of no consequence. Pray forgive our moment of weakness. It means nothing, nothing whatsoever!”

Rainbow Dash smirked at Rarity. “I think it means more than that!”

“What?” retorted Rarity, haughtily.

“It means you got leaves in your mane,” pointed out Rainbow.

Rarity gritted her teeth. “Thank you, Rainbow. How very observant.”

“Not really,” grinned Dash. “It’s easy to spot, your mane is a total mess. It looks like…”

Applejack hastily interrupted. “Rarity, if you came here to talk to us, c’mon in and tell us about this serious business. Princess, maybe you better git while the gittin’s good! Don’t worry about our lil’ loan to you. It’ll be all right.”

“Perhaps I’d better!” said Celestia. She smiled tolerantly at Rarity, who blushed and tried to look dignified while covered with bits of bush. Then, with a trot through the door and a bound into the air, the Princess departed, heading not back towards Canterlot but in the opposite direction, to commence her search for Chaos—though in many ways, she could say chaos had already found her. The difference was this: for endless centuries, she’d rejected and feared chaos, in her capacity as Alicorn of Order.

And now, she proposed to… embrace Chaos.

…among other acts.

“Come on in, Rarity,” urged Applejack. “My sakes! If you want to freshen up, I’m sure we got a bucket o’ water kickin’ around here somewhere, or you could dunk your head in the sink?”

In came Rarity, who shook some leaves off her mane and snorted. “Thank you, darling, but not now,” she said. “My appearance is not the most important thing today.”

Applejack stared. “You feelin’ okay, Rarity?”

With Derpy trotting behind her, Rarity marched straight up to Rainbow Dash, transfixing her with a fierce and soulful gaze.

“Tell me everything you know about what happened to Fluttershy,” she demanded. “We must have her back, and if we share information it may help us find where she’s gone! Nothing is more important!”

Dash blinked. “Well, yeah! I love her too, Rarity. We all hope she’s okay.”

“No,” said Rarity, “I mean that she is an Element Bearer. If she has been lost or turned to darkness, we may be unable to use the magic of Harmony to defeat terrible enemies.” She dropped that fierce gaze. “And… yes, Rainbow, I love her too. Few ponies have been such a dear friend to me. I have preserved many a secret of Fluttershy’s but that time is gone, and I must reveal what I know in hopes it may lead us toward her redemption.”

Applejack lifted an equine eyebrow. “Secrets, Rarity?”

“I’m sure nopony would have guessed that demure Fluttershy longed to give herself to a ravening herd of stallions, to be used ruthlessly for their selfish pleasure,” said Rarity.

Applejack and Dash exchanged a glance, while Northern Spy boggled, unable to make sense of the remark.

“We noticed,” said Applejack laconically. “How about you assume we know about Fluttershy’s, uhh, lil’ decisions… and tell us what we don’t know?”

“But that’s just it!” cried Rarity. “I have been aware of Fluttershy’s more perverse desires, though I did not confront her on them. I also know she labored under a terrible self-image, which I have never been able satisfactorily to assuage. But how did indulging in a herd of stallions turn her into a vampire? Rainbow, you witnessed it. What happened? What, exactly, did she do?”

“Spy, honey,” urged Applejack, “it’s time for good lil’ fillies to be in bed…”

“Nuh way!” retorted Spy with a stamp of her little hoof. For a moment, the resemblance to Rainbow Dash was unmistakable.

Dash considered this. “Let her stay. Maybe it’ll make her more careful. If it wasn’t for me we mighta lost Rock.”

Spy gasped. “No lose Rock! Spy gonna find Rock right now!”

She charged off, and twanged to a halt with Blue Mom’s teeth on her tail. Dash rolled her eyes, gazing imploringly at Applejack: though she was quick enough to stop her filly no matter how fast Spy got, she couldn’t explain and hold Spy’s tail at the same time.

“Rarity, close that door,” said Applejack, and Rarity complied.

“Now stand in front of the window,” said Applejack, and Rarity blinked. Applejack sighed. “Don’t ask. Like mother, like daughter. Jes’ do it, okay? Thankee.”

Satisfied, she turned to Spy. “If you’re so all-fired eager to hear this story, you can hear it, but you got to sit on your lil’ rump and not run off. Rock is fine. He’s with Pinkie Pie, at home. Rock is not lost, hear me? You’re gonna sit still and be quiet while Rainbow and Rarity talk.” She stared at her foal sternly until Spy relaxed and stopped tugging against Dash’s tail-grip.

“Spy sit,” grumbled the apple-green filly.

“Damn straight,” said Applejack. “Carry on, Rainbow.”

Dash gulped. “I guess I don’t have to tell you all the things she was doing, Rarity. You can imagine. It was amazing but also kind of scary, you know? They would have broke me in two, doing that stuff. I’m kinda glad it didn’t turn out well, you know? They were having fun but it got so rowdy.” She winced, thinking about it. “I remember when Fluttershy made me feel like a complete wuss, getting our babies out. ‘Cos mine went okay I guess, and then she had such a horrible rough time and didn’t even bat an eyelash about it. And now she’s got me feeling like a wuss about putting the babies in…”

“Where put baby in?” demanded Spy.

“Tell ya later,” said Applejack, hastily. “How about you move on, Dashie?”

“Got it,” said Dash. “Anyway it was probably her dark powers all along, right? I’m just a brave and daring pegasus and I shouldn’t let it bother me if I can’t keep up with a freaking vampire pony! The thing is, when they were all done Dursaa did a dumb thing. He started pulling off her fake mane and tail. You know? Like when Gabby Gums found out about that stuff?”

“I knew,” said Rarity. “But she would not talk about it, Rainbow Dash. I don’t even know where the extensions came from. Certainly not from me, and she would not allow Aloe and Vera to remove them while at the spa! She would get stubborn and refuse to talk, and it didn’t matter if I wheedled or teased, Fluttershy would not even admit she was wearing tail extensions! She was so determined about it that I began to doubt myself, and wonder if Gabby Gums had lied. But it was true? The extensions, they came off?”

“Not just that!” said Dash impressively. “He threw them in a puddle of spooge and they started to spark and fizz!”

“What spooge?” demanded Spy.

“Oh lordy,” moaned Applejack.

“Not important,” said Dash. “Sort of like goo, okay? That’s not the point of the story, Spy.”

“Spooge fizz?”

“Missy,” snapped Applejack, “do you want to go upstairs to bed?”


“Then hush. We can’t answer all them questions. Go on, Rainbow.”

“Anyway,” said Dash, “that’s when we saw that Fluttershy had turned into a scary monster! She… Applejack, wanna anchor our little racehorse?”

“Got it,” said Applejack, and ducked her head down, firmly seizing Spy’s tail before she’d gone anywhere. Spy gave her an offended look, and returned her attention to Blue Mom’s story.

Dash continued, “She looked like that time the vampire fruitbats attacked, you know? Only worse. More frazzled, though I guess she had a lot of excuse for it, whoof! And she goes, what have you DONE? like that, and then she sees Rock standing there. He’d turned up, I guess trying to find her. He tried to charge right in when Dursaa went after her fake mane and tail, like he sensed something bad was gonna happen. And she takes one look and she opens her mouth and it’s all fangs and she swooped right down and GRABBED him…”

“Rrrk!” went Applejack. Northern Spy had instantly flung herself into action and nearly yanked her teeth out.

“Hey! Kid!” said Rainbow Dash. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Save Rock!” squealed Spy excitedly.

Rainbow put out a hoof and touched her foal’s nose. “Stop. I already did, Spy. I told you, Rock’s okay. I saved Rock.”

Spy’s eyes were very wide. “Really?”

“I’ll tell you how if you sit quiet,” said Dash.

Spy immediately stopped pulling against Applejack’s tail-grip and listened. As much as she rebelled against Rainbow, there were some things for which she trusted Blue Mom completely.

“I flew after her,” continued Dash, “and tried to disable her with a forward wing-kick, but she pivoted. You know, it would seem like that exposes the wings even more but you can’t reach the good flight muscles that way. It wasn’t just pegasus hooficuffs, though. It was also concealing Rock from me and I didn’t like that at all, and that was when I got her in the back of the skull and crunched her head. I wish I knew how hard I did that. I definitely felt something give, but I’m not sure how much damage I did, or how much it even matters with an undead vampony.”

“Yeah!” squeaked Spy. “Hurt bad monster!”

Dash winced. “The problem there, Spy, is that it’s also Fluttershy. You know, his Mom? Or it might be.”

Spy froze, stunned. “But… Mom no hurt…”

The adult ponies, likewise, froze in place with their eyes troubled, unable to continue. It was one thing to tell a story of a bad thing randomly appearing and being scary. Spy could fight that, or thought she could. To explain that Fluttershy herself may have been turned to a bloodsucking vampony was another matter. It suggested that Rock’s Mom could suddenly try to devour him, and Northern Spy’s foalish mind had never once considered the idea of such a betrayal. Even the adult ponies were struggling with the implications of the situation, suffering terribly as they tried to comprehend it. Spy had no chance at all.

Then, Dash leaned down, staring Spy straight in the eye. “That’s right. I was mixed up, baby. Mom no hurt. It wasn’t his Mom, doesn’t even look much like her. We’re gonna go find his Mom. It was something else, like a scary monster. Okay?”

Spy’s lip quivered. “Not Rock Mom?”

“Totally other thing,” lied Dash. “And I kicked it in the head so hard I left a big dent.”

Rarity gave a little cry of dismay, and then was silent at a frantic glare from Dash, understanding the need. They would have to silently understand that it might have been Fluttershy enduring these attacks, but not confuse Spy’s simple world too much.

Spy stamped a hoof. “More! Save Rock!”

“I did!” squeaked Dash. “Way ahead of you kiddo. The monster, that is the vampony, screamed at me and it was all fangs and stuff, and I whirled around in mid-air and I kicked out for all I was worth, with hind legs. Though actually Applejack has better hind legs than me, I’m better with forelegs. But it was like I was Applejack for a moment, and I nailed it on the left fore, and feel another crunch, and Rock is loose! And he’s dropping like, well, like a rock!”

Spy gasped. “Save!”

“I was gonna, but the monster had the same idea! I saw it dive too, it was gonna grab Rock somehow! I can’t imagine how it was gonna grab onto Rock with a broken foreleg but it was gonna try…”

Rarity moaned, looking very sick. A mother herself, she had only to imagine herself a pegasus with an earth pony child falling out of the sky, to know that broken leg or not she would catch him or die trying. And Fluttershy, a vampire, was already dead, and had a terrifying ability to endure pain for the sake of her foal. Derpy Hooves hugged Rarity, worriedly, and sat quiet, listening.

“And I was like, nope!” said Dash darkly. “I kind of freaked out. I saw the fangs and I was like no WAY and I’m screaming and punching its face, not even caring if I got bit, kicking at the broken leg, anything…”

Applejack, still clinging to Spy’s tail, looked sick as well. Fangs? She imagined Dash as a vampony, and vowed to have Celestia give her darling a check-up, just in case. She also resolved to study every inch of Dash’s body for bite marks, though that was not an onerous task—but it would be more frightening than usual. If a vampire bit you, you’d had it.

“And it gave a really horrible scream I’ll never forget,” finished Dash, “and gave up. It just couldn’t handle me flipping out. But I couldn’t let it go after Rock, I just couldn’t. And it flew away, went to hide in a cloud. It was gone. Hear that, Spy? The monster’s gone.”

Spy had stars in her eyes. Her mouth opened in a coo of adoration… which turned into an O of horror. Beside Rarity, Derpy’s expression matched Spy’s, remembering the falling Rock just a moment before Spy did.

“Catch Rock!” squealed Spy.

“Rrrrk!” went Applejack, as Spy yanked against her grip again.

“I saw Rock Candy falling below me,” said Dash grimly, “and I knew I was only gonna get one chance. Sometimes that’s all you get is one shot, and you have to be ready to do whatever it takes, and I dove, straight at the ground, faster and faster…”

“Rainbow Dash!” shrieked Rarity. “Please don’t make this more dramatic and awful than it has to be!”

“Oh, uh, sorry, Rarity,” mumbled Dash. “So yeah! I caught him. I slammed into the ground, but I rolled and I didn’t get hurt. Neither did he, though he got a big scare. And the next thing you know, Pinkie’s hugging him like she’s never gonna let go.” She blinked at Applejack. “Hey, why no sugar for Rainbow? Didn’t I rate hugs and kisses?”

“Mrrf,” grumbled Applejack around Spy’s tail.

Rainbow blinked. She glanced at Rarity. “Block her if she runs at that window,” she said, and turned to Spy. “Hey, kiddo! Rock is safe, do you understand? I saved him. He’s home with his mom. Are you going to jump around, or are you going to be good?”

“Spy good!” said Northern Spy.

“Let her go, Applejack. What did you say?”

Applejack released Spy’s tail. “Din’t finish sayin’ it to be honest. Rainbow, I got all the hugs and kisses for you there ever was, but right then monsters were attackin’ our foals. We had to fight, an’ fight smart. Remember? We ran right over to Twilight’s to get help. That’s why. We’re Element Bearers, Rainbow, and sometimes we got to do our huggin’ later. Such as…”

She glanced warily at Spy, and tossed her mane, striding up to her mate. Applejack reared, and grabbed Rainbow Dash in a fierce hug, kissing her passionately and squeezing her tight.

“Ah am SO glad you’re okay, an’ I love you forever, honey,” she said, and ruffled Dash’s mane, surreptitiously peeking under it to see if there were any bite marks. But there weren’t any, just that silky cerulean undercoat you’d miss if you didn’t know it was there. Just like Rainbow had acted heroically, not even thinking about it, and only the next day fretting over whether the lack of kisses at the time meant anything… and needing reassurance, though she framed it as a sassy quip.

“Fight monsters!” squeaked Spy, and yawned.

“We totally did!” agreed Dash. “And it looks like you’re ready for bedtime, kiddo!”

“Spy ready for fight monster!” insisted Spy, sticking out her lower lip in a pout.

The adult ponies glanced at each other, touched. Like mother, like daughter—except that Northern Spy couldn’t possibly understand what she was saying. It was still words to her. For Rock Candy, the word ‘monster’ had taken on alarmingly distinct form. The word ‘fear’ included things like big fangs and plummeting from great heights. No such experience had touched Northern Spy’s life, yet she sat there, prepared to charge off and attack all the monsters and anything that threatened the ponies she loved.

Rainbow Dash’s eyes glistened, just a bit.

“Sure ya will,” she said gently, her scratchy little voice soft. “Sure ya will. But we have boring stuff to talk about now, and you’re up way past your bedtime, huh? And all the monsters are gone, baby. It’s time to go to sleep now.”

“All gone?” said Spy. She yawned, again.

“All gone,” said Dash softly. “I won’t let anything hurt you.”

Spy snorted. “Huh! No hurt Spy! Spy f… fight monnhhh…” She yawned again, hugely.

“Sure ya will,” repeated Rainbow Dash.

She wrapped a wing around her foal, and coaxed her to stand, and walk on wobbly, sleepy legs up the stairs, and Rarity and Applejack waited patiently as Dash tucked her in, watched her fall promptly to sleep, crept quietly downstairs to rejoin them.

“Fight monsters,” said Rainbow gravely, and began to cry.

“Eyup,” said Applejack, and hugged her, hard.

“Oh, Rainbow!” said Rarity. “Do you think she will ever forgive us?”

Dash’s face twisted. “That’s the thing, Rarity! I was looking her right in the eye. I can’t tell! I mean, now I can see that maybe she was trying to get Rock out of there, but with all that screaming and the fangs… her voice is real different, Rarity. She looked super different. I just don’t know, and it’s killin’ me.”

“I hoped I might have a clue of some sort,” said Rarity, who quietly wept along with her friend. “That is the terrible thing, Rainbow. We don’t know. Don’t blame yourself! It’s possible that the Fluttershy we know only existed because of those magical hair extensions she used. You say that she cried out ‘what have you done’?”

“Yeah,” said Dash. “And it was like she was frightened. So frightened and angry. We all noticed the angry, but I’ve known Fluttershy a long time, and she was terrified. And then she saw Rock standing there…”

“Easy, babe,” said Applejack, hugging her tighter. “We all did the best we could.”

Rarity was frowning. “Except that our most powerful ally is otherwise occupied. Curse that Twilight. I’m not at all sure Discord had anything to do with it, I suspect that’s a wild-goose chase. Discord is unbearable at times—I should know, I’ve had him—but I’m sure those hair extensions predate our experiences with Discord.” She hesitated. “Or did they? When did she begin wearing the things?”

Derpy cleared her throat, and the other ponies glanced her way.

“Fluttershy got really mad?” she said. “And turned mean and bitey?”

Rainbow blinked. “Um. Maybe. She didn’t bite Rock, but she did get really mad, that’s why I fought her.”

“Are you sure she was different?” asked Derpy, earnestly.

Dash gulped. “Yeah, we just don’t know how different. She had big scary fangs. Like, huge pointy ones. You know, teeth?”

Derpy considered this.

“That’s pretty different.”

“Eyup,” said Applejack.

“We still love her, though,” said Derpy. “Right?”

The ponies glanced at each other, startled. There was a brief silence. Dash broke it.

“Fuck yeah we do! I do love her. If that’s still her.”

“I, as well,” said Rarity bravely. “However will we determine the truth? We cannot let things stand as they are.”

“Course I love Fluttershy!” said Applejack. “That din’t look or sound too much like Fluttershy, though. I din’t like that remark, ‘what have you done’. Sounds… final.”

“Well, I know Fluttershy,” said Rarity. “And as much as I love her, it is not the first time she’s believed unhappy nonsense. She could have believed herself doomed to a horrible fate as an undead vampony and still be mistaken. It would be very like her to think all was lost. You say she was hideous in aspect?”

“Outrageously badass,” confirmed Dash. “Scraggly mane, bat wings, big fangs, the whole package. Not even like a pony anymore.”

“If she used the mane extensions’ magic to suppress her condition,” said Rarity, “and concealed it even from me, she must have believed she would be treated as a monster if we learned the truth. This does not mean she is indeed a monster. To not give herself a chance would be very typical of Fluttershy, I fear. We can’t go by that! We must learn the truth.”

“Well, she flies,” said Applejack. “We can’t catch her. But we have a pony who might be able to…”

She glanced at Rainbow. Rainbow looked back. “Uh-huh. You realize that maybe I only just barely got away the first time? You want me to go find her and say, sorry for kicking a big dent in your head?”

Rarity gagged. “It was a big dent? Eurgh! The poor thing!” She cringed, and Derpy hugged her.

“Kinda,” admitted Dash. “But she might have done a lot worse to me, or Rock.”

“Rock’s safe, now,” said Applejack. “Can you outfly her?”

“If I don’t have to get something away from her? Absolutely.”

Rarity glanced over. “And you are the bravest of ponies, Rainbow Dash! Perhaps we have a chance at this after all, if we work together. I can try to think of opening remarks that Fluttershy, the real Fluttershy, might respond to. Perhaps we can claim that we’ve fixed her magic mane and tail! It’s not true but you can see how she reacts to the suggestion, no?”

“Nice one, Rarity!” called Applejack. “Hell yeah we have a chance. We got to battle the big scary wrong things in our own way, and not give up too easy. With braveness!”

“And cunning!” offered Rarity.

“And good hearts that ain’t too quick to judge!” added Applejack.

“And total, extreme, overwhelming… cuteness!” said Rainbow Dash.

Her friends stared at her, astonished.

“What?” said Dash. “Did you think I was gonna say being a total badass?”

“Well, YEAH!” blurted Applejack.

Dash hung her head. “I already did that, and it didn’t help. And I think just maybe, an evil vampire undead monster might have an unfair advantage at being all badass… I don’t want to test how far to push that.”

“You think Fluttershy is more badass than you, Rainbow Dash?” gasped Derpy.

Dash glared tearfully at her. “I already caved in her fucking skull, what more do you want? It didn’t stop her! She’s still out there somewhere…”

For a moment, the two pony couples clung together in terror, considering that fact, and weighting the relative badassery on either side.

“Cuteness. Definitely,” said Rainbow Dash.

“It better work,” said Applejack, grimly.

The clearing in the woods caught a cheery beam of sunlight, though it was on the edge of the Everfree Forest.

In it, ponies played.

Specifically, a little colt gamboled, to the encouragement of a massive zebra stallion. The colt seemed happy with his stripey companion, who sat next to a silent pink figure with fluffy magenta mane that observed the scene, motionless.

It wasn’t the only observer.

Leathery wings rustled in the shade of the dense Everfree foliage. A shadow moved. A hiss cut through the air, but the gamboling colt didn’t seem to take notice. And, inevitably, a ragged bat-winged figure began to hobble toward the clearing…

…only to be startled, when a big butterfly net fwumped down to capture it.

“G’tcha!” cried Pinkie Pie muffledly, the handle of the net between her teeth, as Rock Candy and Dursaa glanced eagerly in her direction. The pink figure didn’t look, as it was made of pillows and cotton candy.

The word hadn’t left Pinkie’s mouth before all hell broke loose.

Fluttershy thrashed inside the net, freaking out, struggling with un-equine strength. Pinkie tried to hold on but the handle of the butterfly net was wrenched from her teeth. “Stop it!” she shrieked.

She got a tortured, blood-chilling shriek in return, one that didn’t sound anything like a pony anymore. It had overtones that made her teeth hurt. Fluttershy writhed inside the net, all fangs and reddened, crazed eyes, and wouldn’t stop screaming, and Pinkie began to shriek as well and Dursaa came thundering up to protect her—and Fluttershy ripped the butterfly net to shreds with fore and hind legs that didn’t even all bend the right way, and burst free, looking psychotic, face too contorted to interpret.

And she blasted straight up into the sky on creepy bat wings, through the dark overhanging trees, and was lost to sight.

Pinkie panted, shaking. Dursaa trotted in place, frantically, unable to stand still as Rock ran up and clung to Pinkie’s leg.

A dreadful, raging, agonized scream rang out across the Everfree Forest, and in the distance the timberwolves hid with their tails between their legs.

Pinkie bared her teeth.

“THAT IS NOT THE CUTEST FLUTTERSHY NOISE EVER!” she screamed, in frustration. “And it doesn’t give us much to go on, missy! Do you HEAR ME?”

Rock hugged her. “Is Mom okay?”

Pinkie was sweating, wild-eyed. “I didn’t get the chance to ask her. Argh! That was supposed to give me a second to look at her!” She glanced at Dursaa, and did a double take. “What the heck is your problem, buster?”

Dursaa whimpered. “I would like nothing more, Pinkie, than simply to give you a hug. Yet harsh experience taught me it’s welcome as eating a bug…”

Pinkie glowered. She’d kept the upper hoof with Dursaa by smacking him when he got patriarchal, and had pointed out that even Fluttershy hadn’t accepted him as a mate, unless turning into a bloodsucking monster counted as matrimony.

His remark, “Oh, that’s what some stallions call a mare: perhaps the description’s not quite fair?” did not go over well.

“I guess you did sit there and do what I told you,” she admitted. “Thanks.”

He continued to fret. “I could do nothing from my sad remove, and now I cannot show comfort or love…”

Pinkie felt Rock hugging her, and shaking. Then she realised it wasn’t Rock: it was her. The adrenaline was wearing off, leaving a feeling of horrible failure and loss. She hadn’t even got a reassuring glimpse of Fluttershy. Shy writhing in the butterfly net resembled a savage beast, but they’d had no choice: if Fluttershy had turned to the bad, they couldn’t risk her attacking Rock again.

Pinkie’s lip quivered. “Yeah, well… fine. D…don’t get used to it, buster.”

Dursaa blinked. “Excuse me, sweet Pinkie?”

Rather than explain further and hear more fancy zebra-rhyming, Pinkie just reached out a foreleg, her eyes filling with tears.

Right away, she and Rock were wrapped in a very cautious and gentle yet strong zebra hug. Pinkie, in spite of herself, struggled… then made a conscious effort to yield, though the sensation was absolutely alien, as disorienting as seeing Fluttershy in monster form. He was big and male but he wasn’t doing anything to her, he was only comforting her with a hug, like a loving mare might do. It was impossible to confuse his sincerity, even though he still felt and smelled and seemed all stallionish against her. There was no softness of mare body, only tough solid muscle, and he made no pretense of femininity yet still had some sort of tenderness going on. Pinkie’s brain tried to make sense of the logic-defying incongruity.

It suddenly occurred to her that nothing male had ever hugged her before, ever in all her life, until Dursaa had turned up stubbornly and repeatedly insisting on some kind of right to caring. And not just to be cared for, either: he seemed to believe he could be gratuitously male and still express softer feelings. Pinkie wasn’t sure where he’d picked up that idea.

For all its strangeness, it was still some comfort.

Above the Everfree Forest, a nightmare circled, and then dove for the seclusion of a dark, dripping cave obscured by vines and shadows.

Fluttershy swooped in and alighted on three legs, holding the broken one off the ground, making a horrible guttural sound in her throat as it swung back and forth a few times. Her forehead sweated buckets of sweat that ran into her reddened eyes. Not that those were any great treat at the best of times. Not anymore, they weren’t.

“Calm, calm, calm…” she rasped.

She stared around the quiet cave, through the dim red fog of dark vampiric hungers and the flickering fiery haze of pain, and slowly sank to the rocky cave floor, curling up in a ball with her injured leg poking out.

And Fluttershy cried, weeping piteously, her thoughts tormenting her just as much as the terrible injury to her head—which could not kill her, for she had already died. She sobbed, trying not to shake in her grief, for the slightest motion sent horrible pain through her.

They tried to trap her like an animal! And in her pain and terror she’d reacted just like one. It was her worst fear, that of being revealed as a monster, and now they all knew! They knew and they would never trust her again. Nor should they, thought Fluttershy. Those horrible impulses!

Granted, she had never obeyed the ghastly creepy bloodlusts. She’d denied them from the start, for they were simply awful and quite unbearable. They were like some outside thing taking up residence in her head, and she’d devoted her every thought and action to rendering herself utterly safe from ever responding to such terrible and disgusting hungers. Blood, prey, ew! Fluttershy rebelled to the core of her being against what vampirism called her to become.

Yet she had been found out. The very ones she’d loved the most! Not only that, they’d tricked her. Not only that, but they’d brought in Dursaa! She cursed the moment she’d given in to him, her heart crying out in the most traditional manner to let the big fine masculine stallion claim her and make her his own. She was the worst sort of fool, she thought, and probably driven by nothing but awful carnal urges that made her do bad things.

She was a fool to seek out dominant stallions of that type—even if it was very soothing to her, trying to find a mate who would devote himself to her and still boss her completely. She’d almost pulled it off, too.

Fluttershy spared a moment to contemplate that lost dream. She’d had no worries whatever about that situation, for she felt completely capable of influencing such a creature and wheedling whatever she needed out of him. Part of what she needed was his dominance and leadership. He could be King and take all the responsibility, if that pleased him.

It pleased her to nurture his powerful masculinity and direct it as needed, and no part of her wished to do this through strife or demanding: she wished to bask in his limitless power and meet her own needs through gentle hints and suggestion. She would be able to get all the things she wanted, but somepony else could answer for the sins of greedily wanting, and she could remain demure and passive and shelter him from the struggles of life. He would be so devoted that she’d not even need to think or question. She would be able to trust without reservation or limit. There was nothing Fluttershy longed for more than this: a life dedicated to nurturing alone, with no awkward contentiousness. The stallion would do all that, and she would care for him and keep him strong so he could fight life’s battles for her. They would be one wonderful being made up of utterly, symbiotically different parts. And for a spectacular, unforgettable moment, it looked like it would work.

Fluttershy wept. She was alone, and somehow he’d ended up with Pinkie and her own foal. Rock! Her heart still yearned to be with him. She could still remember the horrible moment when Rainbow Dash, assaulting her in a fury like she was the monster she’d always known herself to be… had broken her foreleg and made her Rock Candy drop away from her. She could still remember what it felt like to touch her foal for the very last time. It was some comfort that the real ponies had saved him, but by the same token they would continue to save him.

From her.

Half-blinded by pain, Fluttershy touched her belly. She knew it was sheer sentimental fantasy, but she took a moment to imagine what was there, inside her foulness, innocent. She’d been fertile and Dursaa had inseminated her, by the gallon from the feel of it, and there was no chance she’d failed to conceive from all that. Even though her once friends would never trust her again, thought Fluttershy, she’d come away with something precious. For a second time, she would bear a pony foal. Perhaps she could keep this one. Raise it. No, that wasn’t fair to the foal, she would have to give it up.

Perhaps she could arrange for a second set of magic mane and tail… no! It wouldn’t help, Ponyville knew her now. It wasn’t fair to her helper. Fluttershy put the idea out of her mind.

Her master was going to have to go on without her. She had a foal to birth, and couldn’t risk being trapped or killed. Once she’d birthed her foal, then she could be killed. Ha! She was dead already, that was a laugh. Destroyed. She’d never had the nerve to ask how that was done. Doubtless there was a way. Everything died. She was just stuck on the edge of it.

Neither her helper nor her master was going to show her that way, she knew. She would just have to abandon them as well.

Fluttershy, still weeping, chuckled bitterly. It was all so absurd, so sad and wretched and ridiculous. All her efforts to be good had come to nothing. Her secret was out, and she would never see her friends again. They would hunt her and destroy her, which was no more than she deserved as a horrible bloodsucking dark-impulse-having monster, and the best she could hope for was to deliver her new foal to safety and then give herself up to the punishment of Fate, as she’d once done when she thought she’d killed Princess Celestia’s pet phoenix. This time there would be no mercy for her.

She blinked.

Why wait?

If she sought out the Princesses, surely they could execute her? The Princesses could do anything! She’d always been terrified they would discover her secret, resisting the use of her dark powers for fear she’d be revealed and destroyed. But that was when she lived a lie, the lie of friendship. The lie of love…

Fluttershy, sobbing, got to her hooves, or three of them at least.

Her unlife was over, just as her life had been over. She would never hold Rock again, would never kiss Pinkie or thrill to the lovemaking of Dursaa. But if she went to Princess Celestia, the Princess was so powerful that she would be able to face down a horrible vampire and hear its plea—and wise enough to understand it. She would have to be careful, for her once friends would be hunting her, but she could ask a boon of the Princess.

Vampires could not be cured. Fluttershy had read it in a book, and she also knew it in her bones.

Yet she could arrange forgiveness for her foal, which was innocent.

And then, what? Fluttershy wavered, feeling her fate drag at her. She knew she was a monster. She knew she could not be forgiven, had known it all along. All her efforts for goodness had led to naught. She could not be cured, could not cease being the monster she was.

But perhaps she could be ended.

Fluttershy took wing, heading out into the night in search of her Princess, and her fate.